State agricultural officials say that when it comes to writing rules to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, the U.S, Food and Drug Administration needs to take a mulligan and Congress should give the agency time for a do-over.
The ever-so-gentle pushback on FDA’s work on the FSMA took shape a few days ago at the annual meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) when members voted unanimously to go back to Congress “to assure adequate due process for the promulgation of FSMA rules.”
To get there, the state agricultural directors want Congress to give FDA more time and it wants FDA to produce a second draft of rules for more public input. The state ag bosses are mostly concerned with rules on produce safety and preventive controls.
“We have appreciated FDA’s willingness to meet one-on-one to hear many states’ concerns,” says North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler, the outgoing NASDA president who hosted this year’s annual meeting in Asheville.
“It is important that we continue these conversations so the FDA can hear concerns from real farmers across the country,” Troxler added. “Postponing these rules will allow needed time for FDA and the states to make progress on state-federal partnership on food safety. This partnership must be in place before implementation begins.”
The incoming NASDA president, Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, plans to make food safety a priority for the association during the year ahead.
“NASDA is fully committed to food safety and the successful implementation of FSMA,” Ross said. “We must take the time to get this right for the sake of our producers, processors and consumers. I look forward to working with our partners and consumers groups to engage Congress and FDA in developing an implementable food-safety program.”
Some of the groups NASDA hopes to work with, such as the Center for Food Safety, went to federal court to get FDA to move faster, not slower. In response, Judge Phyllis Hamilton of the U.S. District Court for Northern California has FDA on a schedule to complete the work by June 30, 2015, roughly three years later than Congress mandated in the 2011 law. Congress, however, could override the judge.
Bob Ehart, a senior policy advisor for NASDA, penned an editorial for the association on Tuesday that further explained where the state ag officials are coming from. He said it’s more important for FDA to “get the rules right” than to do it fast.
“Two concerns are primary to NASDA members: FDA has little experience inspecting farms, and, while anyone seeking to sell products to the U.S. will have to adhere to the ‘Produce Safety’ and the ‘Preventive Control’ rules, producers are questioning whether a process that allows food brokers to verify food coming into the U.S. is a level playing field,” Ehart wrote.
The NASDA resolution covers the Animal Feed, Import, and Third-Party Verification rules being drafted by FDA, in addition to those on Produce Safety and Preventive Controls.
The FSMA was signed into law in early January 2011 after being passed in 2010 by bipartisan majorities in Congress. It is the first major change in U.S. food-safety law in almost 60 years.
NASDA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit association representing the elected and appointed commissioners, secretaries and directors of departments of agriculture in all 50 states and four U.S. territories.